I have spent the last two Fridays in a closed classroom with a group of college students, volunteers, a few professors and 80 live bobwhite quail. I heard the director of UNT Quail speak at a master naturalist meeting two weeks ago. I learned about all this amazing work they are doing at the university to help these little gamebirds. Bobwhite Quail like many grassland species are on the decline. Their numbers have decreased by 80% since 1967. This has a lot to do with habitat loss as prairie and grassland disappears and also with climate. The Bobwhite Quail is near threatened at this time.
Dr. Reyna mentioned that they needed volunteers to help with banding some pen raised quail that were going to be released for research. I showed up not sure what to expect, I get nervous in situations like this where I am not sure what’s going to happen or if I have the necessary skill set. Luckily, the place was teeming with volunteers who were way less competent than me. This made me feel better in the way that someone might feel better swimming in shark infested waters next to a fat person. I may not be very good, but I can out swim them.
Actually, all the people pictured here are either students or professors affiliated with the program or people who otherwise knew what they were doing.
There were 80 little quail in boxes of 20. Each bird needed to be caught from the box, put into a soft cotton bag, weighed and removed from said bag. This is not hard to do but easy to screw up. The graduate student told us to make sure to have a hand on the bird before opening the bag because if they see light, they go for it and then you are chasing a bird around a classroom. Thankfully I only had to chase one that got away from me. After being weighed the birds have an identification band secured to their leg, then they have their tarsus and wing measured. The last two steps are having blood taken from under its wing and being outfitted with a radio collar.
I got to be a bird handler the first day and let me tell you these little quail are way more squirrely than my backyard chickens. We received good instruction on how to hold the birds and how to position them for the measurements and bloodletting. The graduate student explained how important it was to hold the wings down because the quail will flap around violently trying to escape. They can break their own wings doing this.
Some of the other volunteers were off the chain, not following directions, holding the birds like babies, letting them flap around, or even get away. In situations like this I am definitely a strict rule follower. I am out of my element and only want to do things correctly and quietly, I dread being the problem “helper”. Seeing all the other people being stupid and not following the clear instructions inflated my sense of rightness. I should say that no birds were harmed and no wings were broken. I was warned that it is very easy to break their heads off. What the fuck. Every time I held a bird being fitted for a radio collar I winced, praying that this wasn’t going to end in a decapitation.
I was invited back to volunteer again the following week. I am convinced this is because of my superior listening skills. The second time was much more calm and relaxed. There were fewer people present. The dissenters hadn’t been invited to return. Ha, take that!
There were 80 birds in boxes again. This time I got to collect data like “Tarsus 40.1”.
When it was all over there was a lot of bird shit and feathers on the floor but all the birds were ready to be released. Hopefully a few of them survive and make little quail babies and hopefully those that don’t make it still provide valuable data.
I don’t know what to think about myself as a competitive rule follower, but I am not surprised either. You cant tell me you don’t find it annoying when people cant follow simple instructions! Am I right?! In the end, I enjoyed being a part of something that may do a little (or a lot) of good. P.S. wear a shirt you don’t like to bird banding and bring a change of clothes.